Update at 5:30 p.m. — In a statement from the department of Public Works, officials gave three possible reasons for why water may be discolored in some Ithaca homes.

The statement is as follows:

“The Department of Public Works is aware that many water users throughout the City of Ithaca are experiencing or have experienced discolored water coming from their faucets and other plumbing fixtures over the past few days/weeks. This yellowish, reddish or brownish color comes from the rust which accumulates inside the iron water mains. While this is not a health issue, it is unappealing and can also stain laundry. There are a few probable explanations for this condition:

1. The dry summer is creating a need for more landscape irrigation, which causes higher and faster flows through the water mains. When the water velocity exceeds 10 feet per second in the water mains, it tends to scour the normally stable rust deposits on the inside of the pipes and send the suspended rust particles through the rest of the system.

2. Warmer summer water temperatures from the reservoir will dissolve rust more readily from the inside of pipes.

3. The City of Ithaca has a new water treatment plant, and the chemical feeds are still being adjusted to meet the higher water demand. The City is adjusting the corrosion inhibitor and chlorine feeds to help address this issue.

What You Can Do

Contact the City of Ithaca Water and Sewer Division at 272-1717 if you are noticing discolored water. The Water and Sewer crews will flush fire hydrants in your neighborhood. Shortly thereafter, you should flush your household pipes using COLD water until the water appears clear (flushing with warm water will introduce rust into your water heater and could make the problem worse). The discolored water can also stain laundry and porcelain toilets, bathtubs and sinks. Until the time it takes for the water to run clear, the water is safe to drink, but people with iron dietary restrictions may not want to consume it.”

Earlier —

ITHACA, N.Y. — Some Ithaca residents have had brown or yellow water coming from their faucets for the past few days, but city officials are saying that despite the color, the water is safe to use.

Second Ward Alderman Seph Murtagh said he’s been in touch with members of the Water and Sewer division who say that the velocity flow of water has increased, creating a scouring effect in pipes. Minerals such as iron, calcium and manganese — which builds up in pipes over a series of years — becomes loose and deposits into the water, causing the color. It’s not harmful, officials said.

“I have it, too, in my house. My water has been pretty yellow the past couple of days,” Murtagh said. “Obviously, it’s not very nice looking.”

He said water in the area can sometimes turn brown or yellow when there’s high demand for water in the city, such as when the fire department fills up the pool at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center. It’s unclear exactly what might be causing the current high demand, but city official are looking in to it.

Murtagh said in a second ward newsletter, “The only concern with rusty water is that it might stain whites in the laundry, and it can also be an issue for folks with dietary restrictions. While not a health risk, it’s good to report it to the city’s Water and Sewer Division because it’s often the city’s first indication of high flows related to a water main break or unauthorized large draws of water.”

He said this issue continues to be worked on by the Water and Sewer Division, adding that any changes in the situation will be promptly reported to the public.

The city of Ithaca water supply is tested annually and, in 2016, met all state requirements for safety. A copy of the report can be found here. 

Chuck Baker, Chief Operator of the City of Ithaca Water System, has previously said that testing is done by taking 30 samples from homes served by the system.

The Water and Sewer Department can be reached at 607-272-1717 from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.


Featured photo courtesy of Eric Norris on Flickr. 

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.